Ruby Braff

In the Wee, Small Hours in London and New York

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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos

This CD reissues the long unavailable British recording from the Pizza Express label Braff Plays Bing, Vol. I and adds newly recorded sessions in New York, all with strings organized by Neil Richardson and Sidney Sax (London) or Tommy Newsom (NYC.) The U.K. strings are larger in number, while the Big Apple ensemble is only a trio complement. Braff's fluid, solid-toned, freshly salted cornet dominates all of these tunes, taken from the repertoires of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Many of them are ballads or light swing numbers, and the strings are more for sweetening, not as a creative, interactive force. Of the London sessions, the highlights include a silky version of "Old Folks" with Len Walker on electric piano, the lighly swung "All Alone," where Braff evokes images of Louis Armstrong, and the oustanding, well-swung "Go Fly a Kite," where the strings are minimized. There are unique combinatons of elements as the Irish jig-shaded ballad "Too-Ra-Loo," the stringy swing-to-bossa mix on "Swinging on a Star," and electric piano inserts on a low-key take of "White Christmas." The others range from the light swing of "Pennies From Heaven," the skyline vistas of "You're Sensational," and the straight ballad "Please," to a lugubrious, soporific take of "Moonlight Becomes You." That same stance is present on two of the New York sessions, "In the Wee Small Hours" and "My Heart Stood Still," but the band -- with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianist John Bunch, bassist Michael Moore and drummer Kenny Washington -- steps up to easygoing swing, especially for "Love Thy Neighbor." Moods range from nice and easy on "I Married An Angel," the "Skylark"-like ballad "I Get Along Very Well Without You," and the better-swung but snoozy "Goodnight My Love." Less obviously symphonic are the light swinger "Love Walked In" and especially "April In Paris," where Pizzarelli and Bunch get their turn to shimmer and shine. In the liner notes, Braff is quoted as stating "there are people who say they don't like jazz, but they love these songs." While Braff mavens, old-time jazz fans or select individuals who immensely enjoy strings will gravitate toward this CD, there are many better-recorded settings that showcase Braff as the hardcore swing-era icon we all know him to be.

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